Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Trouble With Harry

When people refer to Hitchcock as the Master of Suspense, there’s generally not a specific assumption being made that he was bad at making anything that wasn’t suspense, but that did tend to be the case. For a fine example, we need look no further than this film, his very last effort at making a non thriller/horror movie.
While he had made a few non-thrillers early on in his career, including The Pleasure Garden, Waltzes From Vienna, and Easy Virtue, this had been his first since becoming a major name, and does its best to reinforce why he didn’t normally do these things. Given all the humor he tended to interject in his thrillers, it may seem natural for him to do a full comedy, but while the humor in a film like The Man Who Knew Too Much tended to come from a tense scene that’s turned so over the top it becomes silly (think of the brawl involving the swordfish), here the humor is so understated that it mostly just lays there dead, just like the title character.

So on to the story. Out in the Vermont woods, an increasing number of people stumbles upon the corpse of Harry, and while nobody really seems even the least bit upset at his death (beyond some worries about being blamed and going to jail for it), they are confounded as to how to properly deal with him, requiring multiple burials (and swift diggings-up) as they muddle through how to solve this problem, and avoid the notice of the deputy sheriff (Royal Dano, doing his best Don Knotts impression). Also, most of the cast falls in love.

It plays like an old pastoral tale, full of quaint charm and lush views of Vermont scenery (apparently mostly faked on a stage, due to heavy rains), and with a sprightly score by Bernard Herrmann (in his first of seven collaborations with Hitchcock) that at times seems to evoke the cheerfulness of Peter & the Wolf. And to be fair, it’s a perfectly mild, pleasant, inoffensive effort. The only problem is that the film is so fluffy that there’s no real reason to watch it at all, aside from wanting to see all of Hitchcock’s films. Also, the ending is just terrible, featuring Shirley MacLaine (in her film debut) summarizing the entire film, and bringing what momentum there wasn’t to a screeching halt, much like the ending to Psycho.

According to IMDB, this was one of Hitch’s personal favorites among his films, which means that either he had screwy taste regarding his films, or I do. Still a better film than Disturbia.

Rating: * ½

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